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Understanding Your Audience

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Understanding Your Audience

Imagine that you get into a minor car accident and have to go to the hospital due to a couple some scrapes and bruises. It's not very serious, but you know your parents will worry about you, so you tell them a mild version of what happened, leaving out some details. Would you tell this same version to your friends? Would you be more or less specific? Consider if you had to tell your insurance company what happened? What parts of the accident would you emphasize? In our everyday lives, we cater to different audiences all the time. It's second nature to change the way you tell a story depending on who you're talking to. Understanding your audience is key for proper communication.

Understanding Your Audience "Audience" written on a whiteboard StudySmarterThere are many kinds of audiences to address. Unsplash.

The importance of knowing your audience in writing

Every piece of writing has an audience. Take, for example, picture books. Picture books have the primary audience of young children. This means the writing style in picture books has simpler vocabulary, sentence structures, and main ideas. Now, compare the writing inside a picture book with a history textbook. In a history textbook, the writing is often dense with many complex ideas, and the vocabulary might include words that are unfamiliar. Each of these two writings is a type of book, but they serve a different purpose and are written to a distinct audience. Acknowledging and knowing a paper's audience can help structure the writing so that the main point of the paper, email, or story is most easily understood.

Audience: the people likely to give attention to something

Writers have so many different ways of talking and writing, whether it's informal or formal, detailed and specific, or general. When speaking, it's easy to convey feelings about something, whether it's through facial and body expressions or intonation. However, when writing, diction is what is used to convey the author's points and feelings. Writing with a specific audience in mind helps to simplify decisions as a piece is written, and contributes to the essay's purpose.

Real vs. intended audience

When discussing the audience of a paper, there are two groups that you must consider. The first is the Real Audience, and the second is the Intended Audience. Let's break down each of these individually.

The Real Audience is defined simply as anyone who actually reads your writing. This could include your parents, classmates, teachers, friends, or an AP examiner. Considering the Real Audience of a paper helps keep the paper in perspective. For example, imagine writing an essay on The Great Gatsby. Because a teacher–who has already read the book–is the one reading the essay, it would be unnecessary to summarize the entire plot. The student could simply pick and choose different examples in The Great Gatsby that back up their thesis statement.

The Intended Audience is who you are trying to influence with your writing. This is especially important to remember when writing a rhetorical essay because keeping the intended audience in mind helps to unify your paper in both style and purpose. Consider a very simple example of this. Imagine if you were writing an essay about cats being better than dogs. Who might be interested in reading your paper? In this case, the intended audience would most likely be individuals who like cats, individuals who like dogs, or individuals who like both.

Consider a prompt that asks students to write about whether they believe perfection is attainable or not and why. Who would be the audience being influenced here? Is it the teacher, the student's peers, or parents that expect too much of their children? Choosing any one of these target groups could completely change the essay. If you chose parents, then perhaps your essay would be more formal with examples that parents could relate to– like the stress of school on teens' sleep schedule and mental health. When you write to a specific audience, the reader is more likely to agree with your argument. The main idea is that when you choose an audience, make sure you write to that audience for the majority of your paper.

Sometimes the Real Audience and Intended Audience is the same, but not always!

How to understand your audience in writing

Imagine you're riding a bike. You know how a bike works– your feet turn the pedals which makes the wheels turn, while your arms steer using the handlebars, and your hands control the brakes. Knowing how a bike works makes it easier to actually ride a bike. Similarly, knowing how to identify a Real Audience and Intended Audience in a paper makes it easier for you to write to a specific audience in your own work.

Determining the audience of a paper

Ask yourself the following questions when you want to determine the audience of a paper.

  1. What is this paper about?
  2. What kind of people would this paper typically attract?

Examine the titles listed below and use each example below to identify an audience. Remember to consider the two questions above!

1. Book Banning in US School Libraries: What students are saying.

What does this article seem to be about? Based on the title, it can be discerned that this article is about new book bans in school libraries across the country, and how students feel about it.

Who would this article attract? Most likely it would attract students and teens who are interested in books, as well as their parents.

2. Poland recalls a soccer player from World Cup due to injury.

What does this article seem to be about? Based on the title, it appears that this article is about a Polish soccer player who got injured. As a result, he is not playing in a World Cup qualifying game with Poland's national soccer team.

Who would this article attract? Most likely, this article would attract soccer fans–specifically those who are Polish–or fans of this specific soccer player.

3. Giant Pandas attract thousands of guests to their National Zoo home.

What does this article appear to be about? Based on the title, this article seems to be about the Giant Pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, and how they've received a lot of attention.

Who would this article attract? This article would most likely attract animals lovers, those who live in the Washington, DC area, and people who enjoy zoos and might have visited the National Zoo before.

Though simple, looking at newspaper titles and attempting to identify the audience of the article can be a helpful exercise that can help you when you're looking at essay prompts. Consider the below prompt:

In a well-written essay, develop your position on the value or function of polite speech in a culture or community with which you are familiar. Use appropriate evidence from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument

Examine this prompt through the two questions asked in each of the above examples, but change the questions slightly so that they fit this situation. What should this paper be about? Who should this paper attract? It's almost like you're identifying the article's audience backwards. This is a trick that can be used no matter what the circumstance, but especially on writing prompts!

After looking at all of these examples, identifying the audience of a paper will hopefully be a quick and easy endeavor in the future!

The best questions to understand your target audience

There are several questions to ask yourself when choosing an audience for your own writing. Exploring each of these components individually can make finding a target audience and writing an essay much easier!

Understanding Your Audience Megaphone on pink background StudySmarterThink about how you would address an audience. Pixabay

Who should this reach?

When writing your paper, remember the difference between a real audience and an intended audience. Who do you want to read your paper? Who do you think will actually read your paper? Your audience can be either very specific, very general, or anywhere in between those two distinctions. The more specific your audience is, typically the smaller it will be, while conversely, the more general your audience is, the bigger it will be. In most situations, you may be writing for school. Examine the simple example below, and identify the Real and Intended Audience.

You're writing a paper on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Your intended audience would be your classmates and other individuals who have read Brave New World, or those who are interested in fictional dystopian societies.

Your real audience would be your teacher or professor, who will most likely be the one to read your finished paper.

Now that you've identified your target audiences, you can begin to ask the following questions:

  1. What is the relationship between you (the writer) and your readers?
  2. How much does the reader already know about your topic?

After considering these two questions, it can be easier to structure your paper. In this case, it is most likely better to write to your real audience as opposed to your intended audience as you can then assume that your teacher knows the plotline of Brave New World. Because your teacher already knows the events of the book, this means you can skip the summary and focus on important arguments that support your thesis. Additionally, now that you know your Real and Intended Audience, you can use specific language that your audience can understand, like literary analysis terms in your paper such as metaphor or irony. Identifying your audience has helped you structure your paper.

Sometimes it's helpful to make a list of what your audience already knows and what your audience doesn't know. That way, you know what to include in your paper. It's always better to assume your audience knows less than you, which ultimately makes your paper more detailed and specific!

What about your topic interests your readers?

Identifying what about your topic interests readers most can help you outline your paper and stay on track. Continuing using Brave New World as an example, some major themes of the novel are:

  • Technology Use to Control Society
  • Incompatibility of Happiness versus Truth
  • Individuality
  • Agency

Given that these are major themes of the novel, this is most likely what your readers would be interested in reading about in your paper. Now that you know what interests your readers, you can insert these factors into your writing in a dynamic way to attract your target audience.

Who would agree/disagree with what I write?

Consider again this simple example– a paper about why cats are better than dogs. Chances are, within the audience for this paper, there will be people who strongly agree that cats are better than dogs, people who strongly disagree that cats are better than dogs, and some individuals who aren't sure.

Understanding Your Audience Cat and Dog cuddling StudySmarter

Man's best friend can at times have their foes, Pixabay

By understanding the dichotomy in this argument, it is easier to write in a way that appeals to your target audience. As mentioned before, the target audience for this paper would most likely be animal lovers, particularly those that enjoy cats and dogs. Consider that the audience is mostly cat lovers. This means the paper would be focused on emphasizing and reinforcing why their point of view is correct. However, what if the main audience was dog lovers? In this case, the paper would most likely be focused on changing your audience's perspective through carefully crafted arguments.

Examine how you might apply this same concept to Brave New World. First, it can be assumed that the target audience for an essay like this would be people who have read Brave New World and enjoy books. Now, consider the below statement:

World State members have more freedom because they take soma and feel completely happy, even though they're conditioned. Write a paper explaining why you agree or disagree with this statement and support your argument with textual evidence.

Perhaps individuals who believe that happiness is the most important quality in life would agree with this statement. If the article's Intended Audience was geared to individuals who thought this, it would be best to focus the arguments around why happiness is important, and how happiness (and the use of soma) protects the World State members from harsh realities. The goal of the paper would then be to reaffirm the thinking of the audience.

Conversely, what if the audience were individuals who thought that World State members have less freedom because they take soma and do not have the same agency as John? In this case, the arguments presented would need to actively work to change the minds of the audience. This might be a good place to insert counterarguments, for example:

While John does have a more unique identity than other characters in Brave New World, his inability to handle "freedom" and his destructive tendencies actually trap him, and ultimately lead to his death.

In the above example, the sentence consists of two thoughts. First, it begins by agreeing with the audience, but then explains why the audience's thinking may be incorrect. Presenting counterarguments can be a great tool to use when convincing an audience that your thesis is correct.

Adding counterarguments to an essay can help emphasize why the thesis of the paper is correct! Take the cat are better than dogs example. In this case, acknowledging why dogs are good pets, but then circling back to why cats still outweigh dogs can be beneficial to the overall thesis!

Understanding Your Audience - Key takeaways

  • Acknowledging and knowing your audience can help you structure your writing so that the main point of the paper, email, or story is most easily understood.
  • When you want to determine the audience of a specific paper, ask yourself:
    • What is this paper about?
    • What kind of people would this paper typically attract?
  • The Real Audience is anyone who actually reads your writing.
  • The Intended Audience is who you are trying to influence with your writing.
  • When choosing a target audience for your paper, ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Who do I want to reach with my writing?
    2. What about my topic interests my audience?
    3. Who would agree/disagree with what I write?

Frequently Asked Questions about Understanding Your Audience

The best way to identify the audience of a piece of writing is to look at the main topics covered in the writing and determine who would be most interested in those topics. For example, in an article about a famous soccer player, fans of soccer would most likely be the target audience. 

The best way to understand your audience is to consider why they want to read your writing. By examining their interests, you can structure your paper around what they would find compelling. 

Acknowledging and understanding your audience can help you structure your writing so that the main point of the paper, email, or story is most easily understood.

Ask yourself the following questions when you want to determine the audience of a paper:

  1. What is this paper about?
  2. What kind of people would this paper typically attract? 

These questions will help you identify your target audience.

The Real Audience is anyone who actually reads your writing, while the Intended Audience is who you are trying to influence with your writing. 

Final Understanding Your Audience Quiz

Question

What is a Real Audience?

Show answer

Answer

A Real Audience is anyone who reads your writing. 

Show question

Question

What is an Intended Audience?

Show answer

Answer

The Intended Audience is who you are trying to influence with your writing.

Show question

Question

What two questions can you ask yourself when you want to determine the audience of a piece of writing?

Show answer

Answer

  1. What is this paper about? 
  2. What kind of people would this paper typically attract? 

Show question

Question

What three questions can you ask yourself when choosing a target audience for your paper?

Show answer

Answer

  1. Who do I want to reach with my writing?
  2. What about my topic interests my audience?
  3. Who would agree/disagree with what I write?

Show question

Question

Why is knowing your audience important?

Show answer

Answer

Knowing your audience can help you structure your writing so that the main point of the paper, email, or story is most easily understood.

Show question

Question

True or False: 

The Real Audience and the Intended Audience are never the same.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Ture or False:

When writing your paper, it's usually better to assume that your audience knows less than you.

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

What are the two types of audience that you must consider?

Show answer

Answer

Real Audience and Intended Audience

Show question

Question

Typically, the more specific your audience is the                the audience will be.

Show answer

Answer

smaller

Show question

Question

Typically, the more general your audience is the                the audience will be.

Show answer

Answer

bigger

Show question

Question

Why are counterarguments helpful in essays?

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Answer

They can help emphasize why your thesis is correct!

Show question

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